Welcome to the Panorama of the Mountains Blogging A to Z Challenge. This year I’m watching and reviewing movies from A-to-Z based on my ongoing Classic Movie Project. Most movies will be featured on one or more of three lists: AFI’s 100 Years…100 Movies (USA), The Sight & Sound Greatest Films of All Time (UK), and Cahiers du Cinéma Greatest Films of All Time (France). In some cases, I will be very creative in assigning a Classic Movie to a letter of the alphabet, and in a few cases the movie I watch will not be Classic Movies at all.
Title: The Maltese Falcon
Release Date: October 3, 1941
Director: John Huston
Production Company: Warner Bros.
I watched The Maltese Falcon several years ago – maybe at The Brattle Theatre or maybe I just borrowed the DVD from the library – and I also read the Dashiell Hammett book it is based upon around the same time. But I didn’t remember much about it, which is a good thing since it meant I could enjoy the mystery of it once again. I also felt that I thought the movie was good but not great, so I was also surprised to find I was really enjoying it the second time around.
The Maltese Falcon is a detective story featuring Humphrey Bogart as the hard-boiled private eye Sam Spade. The movie is considered to be one of the examples of the film noir genre, or at least a predecessor to film noir. Spade is definitely a morally ambiguous character and it is unclear whether he is actually willing to go along with the criminals’ plans or if he is just playing them. When he does the right thing at the end of the movie, it seems like he does it more out of spite than justice.
The story begins when a woman, Ruth Wonderly or Brigid O’Shaughnessy (Mary Astor) depending on which version of her life she’s telling, hires Spade and his partner Miles Archer (Jerome Cowan). When Archer is murdered, Spade finds himself drawn into a plot around finding the titular MacGuffin, a medieval figurine covered in valuable gemstones. Also seeking the Maltese Falcon are conman Joel Cairo (Peter Lorre) and mobster Kasper Gutman (Sydney Greenstreet).
This was John Huston’s first film as a director, and despite the detective story, it is not really an action film. In fact, I found it has a lot of unexpected parallels to Huston’s final film, The Dead, which is also a book adaptation about people who spend a lot of time talking but rarely speak the truth. Subtext is key in the battle of wits among Spade, Brigid, Cairo, and Gutman. The film succeeds because of the high quality acting of its cast. Surprisingly, this was Greenstreet’s first film, while Lorre was just making his way into American films, and even Bogart was just becoming an A-list celebrity. They’re firing on all cylinders in this film and the trio would reunite in Casablanca the following year, and Greenstreet and Lorre would make a total of nine movies together!
For whatever reason, this movie failed to make a big impression on my around 17 years ago. But upon revisiting this movie I feel it has earned a spot among my favorite movies of all time.